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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 27/03/2007
Local Government Reform - Current Position



APPENDIX L
Waverley Borough Council

EXECUTIVE – 27TH MARCH 2007


Title:
LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORM – CURRENT POSITION

[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and purpose:

The Local Government Reform SIG met on 13th February and reviewed the Government’s latest guidance on an implementation plan for putting into practice the principles set out in the Local Government White Paper ‘Strong and Prosperous Communities’.

The report also updates Members on the latest position on the Surrey Borough and District Council Leaders’ discussions on Local Government reform.

There are no immediate resource implications, but the longer-term aim of the proposals is to make savings in the cost of providing services.

Environmental implications:

The proposals for improving all Local Government services offer a whole range of opportunities to make a positive contribution for environmental issues, particularly climate change.

Social / community implications:

The Government is challenging Councils to fundamentally re-appraise their relationship with their communities and the people they provide services to.

E-Government implications:

Again, whilst there is nothing specific, the Government White Paper suggests that improved use of E-Government (or Transformational) Government can offer opportunities for both better consultation relationships with community and for more responsive and more cost-effective services.

Resource and legal implications:

The Council has previously agreed to contribute 25,000 to a joint fund set up by District and Borough Councils across Surrey to do preparatory work for responding to challenges in the White Paper.

Introduction

1. The Local Government Reform SIG met on 13th February 2007, chaired by the Leader and with Mr R J Gates, Mr V Duckett, Mr M H W Band and Mr A Rayner attending.

2. The SIG received a copy (attached as Annexe 1) of the Local Government White Paper Implementation Action Plan produced by the Department of Communities and Local Government at the end of January 2007.

3. The Government has set out a range of suggestions for improving services and for areas such as Surrey with two tiers of Principal Councils, for working together to improve services to the community.

Initial reactions of the SIG

4. The SIG felt that the White Paper and the subsequent Implementation Plan posed challenges for Local Government to reconsider its relationships with partner organisations and with its communities.

5. This had major implications for a change of culture in Councils, and the emphasis currently on organisational boundaries and budgets would have to change to one where a whole range of organisations used their staff structures and budgets to address problems in the community in a more co-ordinated way.

6. The Government would also be applying resource pressure, both continuing from the Gershon review and increasing financial pressures, and the Government had set what it saw as a challenge to two tier areas such as Surrey to achieve the same level of savings that would be expected from any proposal for a unitary authority. Surrey County Council in particular sees this as a major challenge and has said that Borough and District Councils will have to respond to this by making big savings in the way they provide services.

7. Whilst there is no doubt about the seriousness of the Government’s intention, the last round of local government reviews in the mid-1990s did not necessarily produce any immediate savings in a lot of cases and, indeed, in some cases actually resulted in increased costs.

8. The Special Interest Group then made observations on a range of issues as follows:

(b) Standards Issues
The SIG felt that the new implementation plan posed considerable challenges for political group leaders as the first level of ensuring that Councillors followed the highest ethical standards. In terms of detail, members of the Special Interest Group had particular reservations about the apparent discretion given to Councillors to choose to release exempt information.

Officers had explained that there would be a report to Standards Committee setting out a suggested response which included this.
Members may recall that there had been, at an earlier stage in the White Paper’s evolution, a suggestion that at least part of the Borough might be included in one of the proposed smaller city regions, the Blackwater Valley. It now appeared that there were no firm proposals to include any parts of Waverley Borough in the Blackwater Valley region. However, Waverley still needed to be aware of the possibility of some form of multi-area agreement covering the economic area of the Blackwater Valley which would affect parts of Waverley. It was also possible that the eastern most parts of the Borough might have a similar ripple effect from any development in the proposed Gatwick Triangle City Region.
The SIG was aware that Waverley needed to do more work on a whole range of policies about community cohesion. Officers had started to give preliminary thought to issues that might arise from groups of migrant workers living in the Borough whilst working on the A3 tunnel project and also on other large-scale agricultural businesses in the Borough.
The SIG noted that there were very large implications for community empowerment, increased partnership working and an increased commissioning role for Waverley rather than as a direct provider of services on its own.

Members were also aware that there were significant challenges for Councillors in their new roles, particularly in community empowerment and leadership, and the SIG was aware that the member development scene was looking at a continuing training programme for members and these sorts of issues needed to be picked up.

Future Role of Special Interest Group

9. The SIG suggested that it might be appropriate for its role to be redefined, possibly after the May elections. In part, its initial role had been to respond to the White Paper and to any possibilities of unitary bids being formulated either by Districts in conjunction or for Surrey County Council or any combination of these. The role now seemed to be more of a think-tank for the Council, for setting priorities for joint working and for co-ordinating joint working projects with other Councils.

Response of Surrey County Council

10. The SIG discussed Surrey County Council’s position, which seemed to be that they would be coming forward to the Borough and District Councils with suggestions for areas for ‘radically improved’ joint working.

11. The SIG felt it was important to prepare for this, and acknowledged that the County Council, because of its significance in the volume of services and the amount of its budget in providing the whole range of Local Government services, was a major influence. However, the SIG also noted that despite attempts by Borough and District Councils to work in a transparent and open way with Surrey County Council, this had not always been possible and could pose challenges for the future.


Future Officer Action

12. The SIG suggested that officers should start to prepare for improving joint working, and suggested the following areas as priorities:-

Borough And District Council Leaders Meeting – 12th March 2007

13. The Leader and Director of Planning and Development attended a meeting of Surrey Borough and District Leaders on 12th March, which discussed the latest position on the issues that the SIG had considered.

14. The meeting was aware that there appeared to be a continuing underlying suggestion that Surrey County Council’s proposals for savings through a County-wide unitary authority might in some way be progressed with central government.

15. The meeting had never received any formal proposal or documentation from Surrey on its preparatory work and felt that because of this, any assumptions about potential savings needed to be thoroughly investigated by Borough Councils collectively so that the figures could be accepted by all levels of local government.

16. Borough Council Leaders also endorsed the need to look at the potential for partnership and shared service working, as mentioned in paragraph 8(e) above. The meeting was keen to stress that the aim was to improve services rather than solely cut costs.

17. The District Boroughs’ Leaders agreed that:

18. District and Borough Leaders also discussed a range of existing partnership working structures such as Local Area Agreements (LAAs) and Local Public Service Agreements (LPSAs). Whilst Members could see the potential of these for addressing problems in the community in a coherent way, Members were very worried about governance structure and also expressed reservations about a possible democratic deficit because of the difficulty of co-ordinating the County Council and eleven District and Borough Councils. It also appeared that some of the key reviews of LAAs at a County-wide level were not including any District or Borough Councillors.

Customer Satisfaction

19. The District and Borough Leaders had discussed the results of the recent audit commission co-ordinated exercise on public satisfaction, and agreed to look across the County at the areas of good practice and identify areas where Boroughs could learn from each other.

20. The District and Borough Leaders also felt that, as their meetings were increasing in significance of effectiveness, it seemed an appropriate time to review the role of the existing co-ordinating group across Surrey, the Surrey Local Government Association.

21. It was also agreed that the District and Borough Leaders should meet again, hosted at Waverley, on 30th April 2007.

Resource Implications

22. As explained above, the Council has previously agreed to commit 25,000 to a shared budget across the Surrey Districts and Boroughs for the type of work mentioned above, and agreed to authorise the Managing Director and Director of Finance, in consultation with the Leader, to agree expenditure from within this pooled budget.

Recommendation

It is recommended that

1. the Executive reviews the areas identified above for future action and endorses these; and

2. the Council’s commitment to working in partnership with any appropriate partners offering possibilities of savings and service improvement, be re-affirmed.

Background Papers (MD)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

CONTACT OFFICERS:

Name: Robin Pellow Telephone: 01483 523222
E-mail rpellow@waverley.gov.uk

Steve Thwaites Telephone 01483 523463
E-mail sthwaites@waverley.gov.uk





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